The Insider

Dog's Days of Summer
It's been a long, hot summer for City Controller Lloyd Kelley, whose missteps have been so many and so flagrant you'd think he was deliberately trying to get attention in all the wrong places. First it was in the pages of the Chronicle, where it was reported that ex-cop Kelley had gifted his campaign treasurer with a $75,000 consulting contract for which there is little documentation of actual work performed. Then it was in the lenses of Channel 13's undercover cameras, which caught the shorts-clad controller taking care of all sorts of non-public business during work hours, such as tending to the yard of his Heights home and visiting a local amusement park with his kids and a female aide in tow.

Kelley reportedly was more than a bit distressed by the media thumping, and even demanded that 13's Wayne Dolcefino sign a "fair reporting" contract with him that included a penalty clause requiring that the station pay $50,000 if Dolcefino violated the terms. Dolcefino, of course, did not agree, and Kelley refused to grant an on-camera interview for the reporter's series of stories.

Through it all, Kelley seemed to be coasting toward re-election, bankrolled by downtown business interests and sheltered by Mayor Bob Lanier's political operatives. Term-limited Councilman Judson Robinson III toyed with the idea of challenging Kelley, then rejected it. Rumors inflated and then popped that either Helen Huey or Gracie Saenz would abandon her campaign for mayor to run for controller.

But bleed enough and some aspiring candidate is likely to pick up the scent. In Kelley's case it was Chief Municipal Judge Sylvia Garcia, who met with Lanier last week to discuss the possibility of her challenging Kelley. Lanier spokeswoman Sarah Turner says the pair did not come to an agreement on whether Garcia would remain in her current job as muni courts chief if she runs for controller. According to Turner, as of early this week Garcia had not officially notified Lanier of her decision to run. Garcia was out of her office arranging a family funeral and unavailable for comment, but Dan McClung, a consultant who's working for Garcia, confirms that the race is on.

Garcia is a protegee of former mayor Kathy Whitmire, and her base of support is similar to Whitmire's. "They're both progressives," says McClung, "and she will have good, strong support in generally the same areas that Kathy did," that is, among Hispanics and African-Americans and moderate-to-liberal Anglos.

The match figures to be very competitive. Garcia finished third in the 1992 Democratic primary in the 29th Congressional District, which was eventually won by Gene Green in a runoff with Ben Reyes. Last year Garcia was the Democratic nominee for county attorney against Mike Fleming. She won 58 percent of the vote inside the Houston city limits, but lost to Fleming in the county's GOP-dominated suburbs.

Money, however, would seem to pose a problem for Garcia. While Kelley recently was the beneficiary of a fundraiser hosted by Port Commission Chairman Ned Holmes, Garcia is starting the race late without any heavyweight financial patrons. McClung says Garcia raised only about $150,000 for the county attorney contest, and he expects money to be equally tight this time around. Still, Garcia's strength inside the city may provide enough leverage to convince some downtown players to hedge their bets by contributing to both candidates.

Kelley consultant Allen Blakemore argues that Garcia had an advantage over Fleming with city voters because she ran as a Democrat, an edge she will not carry into a nonpartisan municipal election. "When people who are normally identified as Republicans run in city elections, they put together an entirely different type of campaign and different coalitions," Blakemore said. "Lloyd has put together those coalitions in the past and done quite well with them."

The controller's most recent campaign finance disclosure report reveals that one member of the Kelley coalition is Dr. Steven Hotze, the religious right organizer who directs several political action committees that support GOP candidates. Kelley took $2,500 of the funds he had raised for his re-election bid and gave it to Hotze's America 2000, a nonprofit corporation that, according to Blakemore, conducts presentations by conservative speakers to area pastors, usually at the downtown Petroleum Club.

Blakemore is taking the hopeful view that most of the recent bad press will actually benefit Kelley in the long run.

"If anything," he says, "it will be a plus, because [voters] will say, 'I remember that name.' "

Yeah, but they may also remember Dolcefino's hidden-camera shots of Kelley walking his dog in the middle of a workday.

Or was the dog walking him?

Too Full Disclosure?
After three years of nonstop administrative turbulence that resulted in the sacking of a chancellor, and a president, and a host of their subordinates, the University of Houston System is in dire need of stability and a firm hand. Thus a memo from new Chancellor-President Arthur K. Smith sent a chill through administrators and faculty who received it last week, particularly on the main campus, which lost president Camille Barnett to a brain tumor in 1992.

Smith announced he was to enter Methodist Hospital this week for prostate surgery, the result of a biopsy that detected the presence of cancer cells. He explained that a routine health check before he left the University of Utah for Houston alerted his physician to the possibility of prostate cancer.

"I want all of you to know the precise nature of the surgery involved," wrote Smith, "and therefore I will be going into more detail than some of you might perhaps expect."

Smith said his doctor believes the cancer has been detected at a very early stage, and that it should be completely curable through surgery to remove the prostate, a choice Smith and his wife made even though there were less severe options, including radiation treatment or simply waiting and conducting more tests.

Smith's recovery from the operation is expected to take four to six weeks, during which time he will work out of the chancellor's official residence, Wortham House.

At Sea
We told you a couple of months ago about that Caribbean cruise that Dallas-area Congressman Joe Barton will be commandeering for an oceangoing fundraiser. Now we're more than happy to pass on the itinerary for the love-Barton boat, in case any of our readers are up for four days of romance, Republican rhetoric and special-interest fun in the sun.

According to the Royal Caribbean lines brochure for the outing -- which features a less-than-alluring mug of the pasty-faced, bespectacled Barton against an enticing backdrop of white sand and surf -- the January 912 jaunt on the Nordic Empress will take Barton backers from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands. On board, they can try to stay awake for seminars on such topics as "How can Republicans keep their congressional majority?" while rubbing elbows with such semi-notables as Congressmen Henry Bonilla of San Antonio, Sam Johnson of Dallas and Arizona's John Shadegg, as well as ex-congressman and former Texas railroad commissioner Kent Hance.

All that and so much more can be had for $2,694 per couple for accommodations in a luxurious stateroom cabin with private veranda. A single standard inside berth will set you back $1,308. Tickets to sail, of course, include a $500 contribution to Barton's campaign fund.

Barton expects to announce other special guests before the ship pulls out of port. Perhaps he'll bring Tom DeLay, Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich aboard to conduct a seminar on interpersonal relationships.

Directional Dissonance
Superintendent Rod Paige managed to confuse more than a few of the teachers from HISD's East District last week when he used an in-service training session to exhort them to get on "the northbound train." The northbound train, as we reported a few months ago, is one of the terms in the lexicography of Model-Netics, the management training program Paige purchased to train district principals and administrators. In simple English, it means "Get with the program, or get lost." (At least we think it does.)

But since the district's teachers so far have been spared the Model-Netics brainwashing, Paige's words provoked ripples of whispered questions in the audience.

"Why would we want to go north?" muttered one teacher. "We're in the East District."

Buggin' Out
A recent scholarship dinner hosted by the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals featured several door prizes, including a trimline phone. The winning ticket was drawn, and it belonged to the one and only Betti Maldonado, the former port commissioner under indictment for conspiracy and bribery in the FBI's Hotel Six sting.

According to one of the dinnergoers, as Maldonado rose to claim her prize, cohort Lisa Hernandez reassured her friend by cracking, "It's not bugged."

Not yet, anyway.

The Insider can be reached at (713) 624-1483 or (713) 624-1496 (fax), or by e-mail at Insider@houstonpress.com.

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